The Early Beginning of Global Benefit Canada
(previous name of Impact Bridges Group)
It all began in 2006 with a trip to Africa to observe the work Mark Warren had begun through the organization Global Benefit USA. Mark was the driving-force behind the development of Global Benefit USA who were working in Rwanda, providing clean water sources to the surrounding villages of Kigali. His father, Don Warren, had accompanied him on the trip. Prior to the African trip, a colleague of Don Warren mentioned that he was seeing much benefit by supplying the trace mineral selenium to HIV patients living in one of the slums of Nairobi.
Dr. Warren, a naturopathic doctor, and his son, Mark, planned to go to Kenya on their way to Rwanda to see a charitable program, Our Kenyan Kids, started by Don’s brother, Doug Warren. It was decided to bring selenium to Kenya, in order to provide it to a small group of women involved in that program; women who had been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. On his return to Kenya in 2007, there was such an improvement in these women’s health that it was proposed to do something similar in Rwanda where Global Benefit U.S.A. was active. The use of selenium in HIV/AIDS was supported by growing scientific literature however, there had been no such study done in Africa where HIV/AIDS was having a major impact on the many lives.
In meeting with individuals within the Rwanda Health Ministry, it became clear that the only way to really make a long-term difference would be to run a formal controlled clinical trial. Within a few days of Dr. Warren’s visit, he was introduced to physicians within the health ministry and in other related organizations who were enthusiastic about such a study. On returning to Canada, several academics and researchers who were willing to provide support to the Rwanda team in setting up the study were contacted and they agreed to serve on the research team.
It took three years to establish a Canadian charitable organization (GB Canada) that would financially support the study, and to get all the approvals necessary from the various levels of the Rwandan government. Mark worked closely with his father in providing leadership to the establishment of GB Canada. The Rwanda Selenium Supplementation Clinical trial ran for approximately three years and was completed in 2013. The positive outcome was published in the Journal AIDS. GB Canada continued to distribute selenium to all participants in the study and increased the distribution to approximately 1000 patients for an additional two years. The study showed that selenium supplementation significantly slowed the rate of decline in the health status of those diagnosed with HIV infection.
Even with the strong evidence of the positive outcomes of selenium on participants it was difficult to scale these accomplishments. It was during this time that GB Canada began to review its mandate and strategy for the future. Although a strong commitment to evidence-based approaches was maintained there was recognition for the need to be able to finance such programs during the catalyzing for such a promising intervention as selenium and HIV.
The Impact Bridges Group
In 2017, the GB Canada board of directors appointed Terry Gray as the Executive Director to restructure GB Canada to join a movement of social architects who are committed to maximizing the impact of social programs. In this process, GB Canada changed its name to Impact Bridges Group. As a not-for-profit, Impact Bridges Group builds bridges with leading actors in innovative financing, management consulting, and others who can help improve development results for the poor and marginalized. It also builds bridges with implementing organizations who prioritize program efficiency, which means maximizing the impact of existing and future programs.
In part, Impact Bridges Group prioritizes improving efficiency and distributive justice because of the large gap between existing financial resources for development and the resources needed by developing countries to provide essential social services.
The cost of solving social problems such as malnutrition, water borne diseases, education, housing and others runs in the trillions of dollars while global philanthropy and government aid budgets combined are in the billions.
In all sectors, there is a gap between the need for funding and the philanthropic, charity, and donor funding available. This situation was clearly articulated at forums being held world-side including the G7 Impact Investing Global Steering Group meetings.
Traditionally, the development community would advocate donors for increased funding, as well as, design new marketing products to increase philanthropic giving. This should be pursued, but a prerequisite to doing so should be to make sure those resources will be used in the most efficient manner, and are targeted towards the most vulnerable. Only then can optimum impact be achieved. Otherwise, the inefficiencies are wasting valuable resources.
We can’t afford to do so. We have a responsibility.
Social development programs should be designed to maximize the net social benefits for a community. This means looking at project design from both a cost and benefit view point and making sure there are incentives for all stakeholders to want to ensure its success.
It’s important to assess the design of projects in order to make sure the highest attainable level of social benefits is achieved and are allocated justly amongst stakeholders. When organizations are committed to achieving efficiency (maximizing net benefits) and equity (distributive justice) they have secured a mindset that can then take previously insurmountable problems, and look at them through a new lens. One of the lens will be innovative financing which is largely built on efficiency.
Innovative financing instruments can be structured so that they become solutions and in doing so open up larger pools of resources.
These larger pools of resources, that will be the main source of funding the gap, will come from major financial institutions and capital markets. For this to occur, the tradeable financing instruments will need to be developed that integrate measurement systems along with social impacts and financial risk.
Knowing the changes that are taking place, Impact Bridges Group approaches project assessments and financing of development programs with a different mindset and strategy. As such, we seek out implementing partners committed to continual improvement and with demonstrated track records to tap into new financing models. This pool of partners needs to grow and IBG is passionate about working with implementing partners who are committed to achieving high-impact, but have yet to develop a robust track record.
We work together to find the right organizational plan to improve programming performance
IBG wants to work with like-minded partners in making a significant contribution towards solving the world’s biggest social problems. To do so, will require every tool at our disposal. Charitable donations, government aid, and philanthropic giving will all be important, but the emphasis must be on how these funds are used and not primarily in securing them.
As part of its own efforts to improve efficiency Impact Bridges Group works with strategic partners in delivering services and implementing programs.